Train gains steam in Eagle Co.
Aspen, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” There would be something “very Colorado” about taking a winding valley train ride to Vail Mountain on a powder day, says Eagle resident Bette Glinney.
A regular bus rider in the ski season, she likes hearing that a passenger train running from Dotsero to Vail could someday replace our ECO buses.
“We were built on trains ” I’d like to go back to that,” she said.
ECOtransit is on a train campaign, trying to convince town leaders that a passenger railway is the best way to keep people moving in our very congested future. With the Eagle County population expected to double in the next 30 years, it’s either this or eight-lane highways to keep up with the inevitable surge in traffic, said David Johnson, a county transit planner.
“Is that the kind of future we want for Eagle County?” asks Johnson of a mega highway.
The county would rather see trains.
There’s more to it though than convincing leaders and the public that it’s a good idea ” towns will have to change the way they grow and develop. A passenger railway can only work if communities start preparing now for a more pedestrian-centered lifestyle, Johnson said.
This means developing dense town centers where people live, shop and eat all in the same area. Everything should be in walking distance. Towns without their own bus routes will have to create bus routes to feed into the long stretching train line. Towns will have to build centrally located transit hubs ” possible spots for those hubs should be picked out now.
Towns would also have to help with the bill.
Basically, every community in the valley has to be on board for a passenger railway to work, said ECO director Harry Taylor. Vail and Avon are already headed firmly in that direction ” other towns have a long way to go, he said.
Overall, the mission is to get people off the roads, a mighty goal for a society dependent on cars.
“If we could keep someone off the bus or train and walking, that’s a success,” Taylor said. “We need to solve the need for vehicle trips.”
With the wealthy baby boomer generation buying more and more second homes and with lots of low wage labor needed to build them, there won’t be enough affordable housing to go around in the future, Johnson said. The county predicts that by 2025, Eagle County will be importing more than 30,000 workers daily to make up for the affordable housing shortfall.
Overall, the county expects the number of vehicle trips to increase by 171 percent by 2030. That means for every car on the road in 2000, there will be 2.7 cars on the road in 2030 and maybe more, Johnson said.
And already, people really do use the buses here. Eagle County ranks second highest in the state, just below Pitkin County, for the percentage of work trips made on public transportation, according to a county traffic studdy. ECO transit, along with Avon and Vail’s bus systems, transport more than 5 million people a year, Johnson said.
So far, a town like Avon has the right idea, Taylor said. Their new transportation center is being built with a passenger railway in mind. They already have a highly used bus system. The town’s urban renewal is expected to bring the kind of bustling mix of shops, restaurants and homes that would perfectly fit in the county’s vision for keeping cars off the streets.
Ideally, trains would only have one stop in each town, and that’s why towns like Eagle, Gypsum, Minturn and Edwards must develop their own bus systems, Taylor said. So far, they all seem willing to plan for them in the future.
“We’d like to be a part of it, and we have locations where we can connect to a rail station,” Eagle town planner Bill Gray said. “The big question for the future though is how are we going to pay for it?”
While not as far along as Avon and Vail, Eagle’s long-term plans include a possible bus system and dense, pedestrian-centered developments like the Eagle River Station.
Minturn is considering developing the rail yard near Chili Willy’s and extending Main Street. That kind of development would also be a good location for a transit hub, said town planner Chris Cerimele, who likes the idea of passenger trains in the valley. He believes the town is taking the right steps in planning for one in the future.
“Minturn was a railroad community to begin with ” we should celebrate and promote that heritage,” Cerimele said.
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